During Cristiano Ronaldo's six year stay at Old Trafford, he accounted for 118 goals and assisted in countless other goals. After being sold to Real Madrid for $131 Million, the three time English champions were forced with the daunting task of replacing the Portuguese winger.
Transfer rumors swirled for weeks as names like Franck Ribery, Karim Benzema, Sergio Aguero, and David Villa were mentioned amongst the media and fans alike. None of those names were signed by Manchester United last summer.
Instead, Sir Alex Ferguson signed smaller names, but not necessarily lesser talents. Names like Luis Antonio Valencia, Gabriel Obertan, and Michael Owen. While these players were welcome additions to Manchester United, none of them could seriously be expected to replace the void that Ronaldo left.
Sir Alex Ferguson came under much criticism for his lack of aggression in the transfer market, some even claiming that the legendary manager was "losing his touch."
Well, we are now a few months into the season, and once again Sir Alex Ferguson shows why he is the great manager he is. The void left by Cristiano Ronaldo seems to have been filled, but not with new expensive talent, but rather, players that were already at Old Trafford.
Starting with Wayne Rooney up front. The England international has scored in five of United's seven premier league matches, and is currently tied for the second most goals in England. Rooney's goal scoring has settled the main concern of goal production that Ronaldo handled so very well.
Dimitar Berbatov has gotten off to a great start to the season. He took much criticism after a disappointing 08/09 campaign. However, the expensive Bulgarian has proven his worth by not only scoring and creating chances, but by dropping back to help with defense. Something United fans criticized him heavily for.
Let's not forget the revival of Darren Fletcher. Every match that he has played in so far, he has made a significant impact. His most impressive performance to date, was his two goal performance at Manchester City, where he was only outshone by our next Ronaldo "replacement."
Ryan Gigg's form this season has been nothing short of phenomenal. The reigning PFA Player of the Year has continued his play making ways. With no Ronaldo to steal the light, Ryan Giggs has re-taken his place as Manchester United's most effective player. Giggs makes intelligent runs behind the defense and is always looking to pass before scoring.
In many ways, Giggs is a superior player than Ronaldo. Take Michael Carrick's game winning goal against Wolfsburg on Wednesday for example. Berbatov fed Giggs the ball inside the box, Giggs had a clear chance at goal, but instead dropped it off to Carrick who had a perfect shot at goal.
If that had been Ronaldo, odds are he would have taken the shot. Of course, because he is Cristiano Ronaldo, odds are also that he would have at least worked the keeper, but the odds of scoring are significantly lower on an off balance shot, rather than a perfect set up. Giggs, rather than take a shot himself, recognized an even better opportunity to score and gave the ball to his teammate.
In his last three appearences, Ryan Giggs has six assists and one goal. Those are numbers I doubt anyone in football can match.
As a matter of fact, Manchester United have gotten off to a better start this year, than in their past three championship winning seasons with Cristiano Ronaldo.
The team as a whole has not lost a step after a successful 2008/2009 season. The defense has played relavitely well, despite the absence of one of the top European goalkeepers from last season, Edwin Van Der Sar.
As for Ferguson's signings, they have had mixed results. Michael Owen was off to a great start. His late game winning goal against Manchester City earned him respect at the Stretford End. However like much of his career, it has been marred by injury. The reception of Luis Antonio Valencia has been mixed. He was unfairly given the role of replacing Ronaldo by some fans. That is clearly asking too much of the ex-Wigan winger. In that respect, he has not done what he was signed for. To the more reasonable fan, Valencia is slowly easing his way into one of the best starting XI's in the world.
While Manchester United has gotten off to a fantastic start, it is unclear whether this "Ronaldo-less" team will be able to win trophies. However, one thing is clear, this team has proven they can play top football without the top player in the world.